Mohamed Morsi Coup: Ditching Morsi Was a Choice, Not a Coup


This post was co-authored with Darby Arakelian, a former CIA officer and national security expert.

Who is the Muslim Brotherhood kidding? Islamists in Egypt are denouncing democracy as a fraudulent concept when in fact they are the victims of their own incompetence and fraud. A wide array of Egyptians united to demand Morsi’s ouster. These anti-Morsi protesters grasped the truth about Morsi.

One key Morsi adviser labeled the Holocaust a fantasy foisted by U.S. intelligence as an excuse to declare war on Hitler and drop atomic bombs on Japan. Another denounced the UN’s Violence Against Women Declaration as a cultural invasion of Muslim countries. Morsi rammed through a constitution that failed to ensure religious tolerance or democratic pluralism. He blatantly ignored court orders declaring illegal his appointment of a new Islamist attorney general. He issued a decree rendering him immune to judicial review. 

Morsi tried to crush the independent judiciary through action in the Shura Council — the upper house of Parliament — to rid the judiciary of dissenting judges. Imagine if Barack Obama passed legislation ordering Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas to step down. How do you suppose Republicans would react? What if Rick Santorum became president and forced Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan to hit the road? Would the Democrats submit quietly? No wonder Morsi alarmed Egyptians.

Morsi also sought to silence free expression through control of the arts. He ordered the arrest of satirist Baseem Youssef. His ally, M.P. Gamal Hamed, called for banning ballet as it was “prohibited in Islam.”  Egypt depends upon tourism for jobs, an industry that has accounted for 5-6% of the country’s GDP. The Morsi approach? He appointed Abdel Mohamed al-Kahayat as governor for the Luxor area. Kahayat is a former member of al-Gamaa al-Isalmiya, the terrorist group that in 1997 slaughtered 58 tourists visiting ancient monuments outside of Luxor. What was Morsi thinking? He sanctioned repression of Christians and, as the military moved, was in the process of turning his attention to Shiites.

His allies did not flinch from using violence to repress dissent. Since this past December, thousands of protesters have marched on the presidential palace, demanding cancellation of the referendum approving the draft constitution. Islamists responded to an anti-Morsi sit-in with random street battles that left 10 people dead.

Do not confuse the Brotherhood’s agenda with religious piety. Morsi and his allies are not religious figures — a fact Egyptians grasp. They are ruthless Islamists who use religion in place of politics. While dividing Egypt, the Brotherhood failed to created jobs, stabilize Egypt, and re-energize the economy. They did not secure the much-needed IMF loan, making Morsi a puppet for regional financial supporters like Saudi Arabia and UAE, which have promised $8 billion in aid. They made big promises to Morsi as well, which went unfulfilled. Hostility to a regime rooted in force and cronyism motivated the 2011 protests against Mubarak. That dynamic still drives the Egyptian people's hopes and aspirations. 

Egyptian National Front leader Hamdeen Sabahi was correct in turning aside semantic nonsense about whether the military staged a coup, although reports suggest that the miliary may have worked behind the scenes to withhold gasoline supplies to foster dissatisfaction with Morsi. A military coup aims to seize power for the military. Sabahi declared: “It is not a coup. It is a people’s revolution. The ones who took the initiative were millions of Egyptians not the military.

Not surprisingly, Morsi’s ouster drew support from Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabia, and new pledges of financial support from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. While Islamist preacher Yousuf Qaradawi denounced the military, his son, Abdul Rahama Al-Qaradawi, declared: “You haven’t seen a real revolution like the one that is happening in Egypt now.” Egyptians want accountable and responsible leadership that cleans up government, creates economic growth, and provides opportunities. It wants inclusive leadership that fosters a religiously tolerant, politically pluralistic society.

What should the U.S. do? Our key strategic interest lies in preserving Egypt’s treaty with Israel, a key to regional stability. Egypt’s internal politics are another matter. The new Egyptian president, Adly Mansur, has promised a new constitution and new elections. Alas, Mansur is repeating Morsi’s blunder in failing to forge a broad coalition and communicate that he is doing so. His “One Nation” initiative was forged behind-the-scenes, without broad coalition-building, and unveiled as an imperial decree. It was Morsi redux. That approach didn’t work for Morsi and it won’t work for Mansour or the military.

New elections raise tough issues. Should the Muslim Brotherhood be allowed to compete? In principle, that’s great. But what if the Brotherhood — still the best organized grassroots operation in Egypt — wins, then tries a second power grab? Egyptians will rightly ask what guarantees the Brotherhood can provide that for respecting democratic principles. The Brotherhood’s record suggests that it will say anything to win. Why should anyone believe its agenda has changed?

Egyptians need to strike their own balance. We cannot solve their problems. U.S. interests are best served, as national security expert Steve Yates has observed, when it projects power and a sense of purpose. That needs to be done clearly and intelligently. History favors those who support accountable, responsible government, and democratic processes.

But whether Egypt elects to move forward with leadership that offers security, prosperity, freedom, and hope, or falls backward into a future of poverty, fear, repression, and despair, is a decision that only Egyptians can make. We must speak up for our values. But we must respect that, for better or worse, Egyptians, not the international community, bear responsibility for what happens next.